How do they choose?

As a speaker, the RTC committee’s process for selecting abstracts has always seemed somewhat mysterious. Why did my abstract get rejected for ANZ but accepted for NA? Why did the 3 abstracts I submitted one year all get rejected and then all of them the next year get accepted? I’m sure many of you have your own questions.  This year, as a new committee member it will be my first opportunity to see behind the scenes and be part of that selection process.  I thought it might be interesting to share with the RTC community something about how the process works and asked RTC ANZ Event Chair, Chris Needham to give us some insight.



After the abstracts are received they are divided up between the committee members for initial review – minimum two per abstract. Weighted scores and comments are aggregated into a giant spreadsheet to manage this process.  We typically then sort them by scores (highest to lowest), and work through the list as a group, assigning them each a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’.  Naturally those with the highest scores tend to get more nods, but it’s not always the case.

Where applicable, we take into account previous speaker scores/feedback. Where we don’t know of the speaker,  we’ll do some due diligence checks. While we are committed to putting together a top-notch program every year, we also have to be prepared to take risks and allow newbie speakers an opportunity. This is simply part of growth, and part of building a familial atmosphere. Some fare better than others, but if they never get a chance, they’ll never develop. If we feel we need more info or clarify from abstract authors, we’ll note this and reach out to them to get it.

We tend to group the abstracts by subject, to avoid potential clashes, but sometimes we do this to craft a stream. Obviously there are limits to how many we can accommodate on any one topic (yes, even Dynamo), so even great speakers may miss out in this case. Where the subject appears quite new or innovative, this is normally a big plus, though we must also consider if we can get ‘bums on seats’.  Some abstracts are actually ahead of their time, and are a better fit later. We’ve actually rejected abstracts for this reason and asked that they resubmit the same ones for future events.

We keep a very small number of sessions aside for sponsored sessions (where explicit marketing is permitted), but all of our regular session speakers are required to read and agree to our Speakers’ Terms of Agreement. This document articulates the expectations of the committee and of the attendees, about message, behaviour, marketing and so on. We take breaches seriously, and these factor in to our abstract review process at subsequent events.


Once we have all our first-pass ‘yeses’ determined, we’ll start to populate the schedule, looking to ensure that people with particular interests can quickly identify sessions relevant to them. This can be via the primary and/or secondary tags. We do clash detection (but not as some of our attendees might know it), looking for where a speaker may be scheduled to speak in more than one session at the same time; or where two sessions with similar content are concurrent. We have a range of automated reports to help us monitor how many empty slots remain per stream, how many accepted abstracts any one speaker has, how many sessions we have by subject matter, how many sessions by type we have (e.g. case studies), and so on.  The checks and balances are seemingly endless, but it’s all to help us build the best event schedule we can.

When we have completed our first schedule iteration, we’ll review it and identify what isn’t represented that should be.  Then we may reach out to people we know to get those subjects/speakers to complete and complement what is already by then established.  We also like to keep a list of sessions in a queue so that any attrition of speakers/sessions is readily back-filled.

For our new streams, we are more likely to directly solicit speakers/presentations to craft what we feel makes for a great stream, and taking into account what the market needs.  As these grow, we’ll receive more abstracts to choose from.

There are many refinements from our first version to what actually transpires at the event. Once the schedule is published and registration opened, we like to avoid changes, as they are disruptive.  While some are inevitable, we do our best to ensure everyone is kept in the loop leading up to each event.  This is one of the reasons that we ask abstract authors to ensure they have permission to attend and present the material prior to submitting the abstract.

We will commence abstract reviews in the next couple of days, ahead of our committee workshop in Adelaide next month. While the workshop provides the committee with the opportunity to inspect the venue and resolve some finer logistical issues, the main purpose is to discuss, debate and determine the program. It’s a pretty intense exercise, but it’s genuinely exciting and motivating to see what people are achieving and willing to share with others to help our industry grow and improve.” 

Image credit:”What?” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Veronique Debord via Flickr

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